Presentation Skills for Business English

“How can I present … (sound) like a native?” 

This is one of the most frequently asked questions by foreign language learners who wish to improve their presentation skills. However, before I give you my answer…

…let’s start by telling you what happened to me during a presentation last year. I had been invited to present at CamTesol in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and so as you can imagine I wanted to be fully prepared and well-rehearsed to make a great impression. My topic was simple, I had been teaching Business English for a few years and so I felt very comfortable talking about it without a script. However, on the day, my nerves were shattered and I started sweating. I was completely drenched in sweat before the actual presentation had started – my confidence was ruined!  Luckily, I was able to calm myself down and someone brought me a new shirt. By using some basic presentation language techniques, I managed to maintain control of my presentation which led to great feedback from a captured audience.

‘How can I present … (sound) like a native?’ Normally my response is simple, why do you want to present like a native? It is a rather silly question and an impossible goal. After an awkward blank stare and an awkward pause from my students, I continue to explain that it is not so important what you sound like, but that you deliver your key message with impact. It is my firm belief that presenters do not need perfect English in order to present well, it all comes down to a few language techniques. Generally speaking, most learners are already master presenters in their native language and it is a teacher’s job to help students build the bridge between languages.

Here are some secret tips from the classroom on how to create a more memorable presentation:

Firstly, a good presenter is always in control of their presentation.

1. Tell the audience what you are going to tell them.
2. Tell them.
3. Tell the audience what you told them.

It is a known fact that audiences are bad listeners; therefore it is important that we constantly remind the audience by highlighting the key message.

We can achieve further control by learning some signposting language (functional language associated with presentations).

Secondly, a good presenter delivers a key message with impact.

How do we create impact? Well, it is actually quite simple:

1. Everyone loves a good story, but ensure that your story is relevant and that it is relatable (You don’t want to tell the audience about a time when you sweated during a financial presentation).
2. Audiences hate figures and boring facts, rather put it into visual terms. It is definitely more memorable and less dull.
3. Rhetorical questions. This is a great way of getting your audience on your side. By asking rhetorical questions, your audience will subconsciously agree with what you are trying to achieve.4.
4. As I said before, audiences are bad listeners and repeating important phrases will create an obvious chant to emphasise your message.

Last but not least, a good presenter knows how important a good ending is.

This is known as coming full circle. Basically, you end your presentation by highlighting your key messages and providing a brief summary of what has been said. This gives the audience a sense of completion. However, it doesn’t stop there – a great presenter will provide the audience with an action plan, an instruction or some sort of task. After all, what do you expect them to do with all that new information? The instruction can be small, something like: Looking something up, or reading something and discussing it further in groups – the purpose of this is to ensure the key messages were understood and that your audience has taken something from the presentation.

As I mentioned before, a good presenter is always in control of their presentation, they are able to deliver key messages with impact and they know the importance of ending a presentation properly. So if you are interested in improving your presentation skills, I would recommend enrolling in a presentation skills course.

Business English classes at the UCT English Language Centre cover some of the above and much more. Both for non-native English speaking students as well as South Africans looking to improve their 
 English, we offer bespoke solutions. This may involve focusing on sector-specific areas of business communication, or raising employees’ general levels of English and communicative confidence. Contact us for more information!

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